Blogging Bayport Alameda

April 11, 2011

Anything you can do I can do better

As I mentioned on Friday, I was out for most of last week when all the interesting stuff went down. What being away without a reliable internet connection actually did was inoculate me from the public pissing match waged via editorial letters. Reading all the documents at once and then watching the additional comments from the public at the last City Council meeting made me realize that everyone needs to take a step back, stop posturing, start listening, and talk to each other instead of at each other.

The first volley was made by Mayor Marie Gilmore, actually, let me back that up a bit. I think the first signs that this was going to be a clusterfuck of the first order was when the City Council response to the presentation by Acting City Manager Lisa Goldman and Controller Fred Marsh was characterized as:

Council members first offered stunned silence and then little more, saying only that they want core services protected and that they want community guidance on what those are.

I think this set the tone and the idea that the City Council had no idea that the City was in this sort of financial shape. Watching the video, I got a much different impression because one of the initial questions to Fred Marsh was whether he wanted answers to be asked during the presentation or after the presentation was complete. He indicated that he wanted them asked during the presentation and all the City Councilmembers asked numerous questions during the presentation. When it was complete, the silence was, in my view, the chair of the meeting — in this case, Mayor Marie Gilmore — allowing others to talk first if they wanted to. I know this is much different from the Beverly Johnson administration when she would just launch into her own comments first, but it’s a difference in style, not necessarily that people were surprised or shocked.

But the first real aggressive move, probably as a response to the “zOMG! We’re going bankrupt!” news reports, was made by Mayor Marie Gilmore. Was it necessary? Absolutely. Could it have been handled better? Absolutely. Why was it necessary? Because while it’s totally important for information to be out there that the City needs to take positive steps now to stop the slow bleeding of the City’s funds, if the goal is also to find new and diverse sources of revenue, it’s not going to engender any confidence in businesses to relocate to Alameda if everyone is going around screaming that the sky is falling.

Could the letter have been better phrased? Of course. Calling Kevin Kennedy and Kevin Kearney “irresponsible” was more inflammatory than it should be. I think had that line been omitted from the letter, then focus would be on the content of what she is saying instead of the focus being on the Mayor v. the Kevins. But she does address what I discussed here. We knew that there were these problems two years ago. Apparently zero progress had been made during that time. The expectation that this current Council solve yesterday what the Council majority of last year didn’t handle with Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant at the helm is a bit ridiculous.

But, in the grand tradition of not leaving well enough alone, the Kevins felt as though they had to fire back. What was problematic, for me, about this was that it was more political than attempting to actually add anything to the dialogue. It felt more like an opening salvo in what might be a run for City Council. If I had to place a bet I would go with a “Kearney for City Council” rather than “Kennedy for Council.” If the Kevins are going to hold this Council’s feet to the fire and say that they haven’t done anything to change course, then it’s certainly fair for the Mayor to point out how we got off course in the first place and that since the Fiscal Sustainability Committee met and presented their findings, nothing was done to right that course either.

And then of course you have the public comments at last week’s meeting which were mentioned here, after that an updated salary list of City employees was released to add more fuel to the fire.

After reflecting on all this is in one sitting and watching the City Council meeting where union officials were out in full force along with some community members what was clear to me was that there is a lot of talking and not a lot of listening. One former City Council candidate went on and on about the need to generate revenue as though the Vice Mayor Rob Bonta didn’t already mention that at the meeting where the initial information was presented. People seem to be ignoring the fact that union officials have acknowledged that after discussions going no where, this Mayor has been moving the process along and that they do recognize that concessions will need to be made in order to keep the City afloat.

What I would have rather seen was a City meeting where the City officials, including the Treasurer and Auditor, sat around like adults and talk this thing out until a solid plan (with plenty of contingencies) can be crafted instead of duking it out in the editorial pages attempting to one up each other. It’s that sort of behavior that makes people lose confidence in the City’s leadership more than anything else.

In contrast, the Firefighters have put out an editorial that presents facts about their contributions and compensation that has since been totally absent from the public debates. I think it’s an important piece of information that has been missing in the discussion as it is too easy to generalize based on the lack of context given in presenting the list of salaries of all City employees. While having information about public worker salaries are extremely informative, it’s too easy to misinterpret what it all means in terms of post retirement benefits and health care costs and what this means for the City’s budget.

In other news, Mayor of San Francisco, Ed Lee, has come up with an interesting proposal for pension reform, including city employees paying into a health care trust fund, it’s definitely something that Alameda should examine and consider.


  1. I am so glad you’re such a wonk, Lauren. Thanks for the excellent summary. I can’t stand to read the Sun or Journal any more; such biased reporting reminds me of my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune. It’s hard to report on local government, but a good reporter does his or her best—out of pride and competitive zeal.

    Comment by Linda Hudson — April 11, 2011 @ 6:28 am

  2. Bankrupt or not bankrupt… as far as the swimming community is concerned, Alameda is bankrupt.

    Comment by Jack B. — April 11, 2011 @ 6:36 am

  3. Mayor Gilmore’s letter in the newspaper was an eye-opener. I expected better writing and debating skills from a law school graduate. Here’s how it came off to me: Alameda is solvent (for now). If we don’t fix things fast, we won’t be, but let’s not tell anybody. — Sunshine is fine until it illuminates that big pile of dog shit, then we cross the street.

    Comment by Denise Shelton — April 11, 2011 @ 7:08 am

  4. I have a question.

    Can the City Council alone negotiate a new contrat during the time period when we don’t have a City Manager?

    Comment by frank — April 11, 2011 @ 7:24 am

  5. Frank: the answer is yes. The City has a labor negotiator (Joe Wiley) and the HR director is also in those negotiations.

    Comment by Lauren Do — April 11, 2011 @ 7:45 am

  6. Frank, Lisa Goldman is acting City Manager.

    Comment by Karen Bey — April 11, 2011 @ 7:49 am

  7. I distinctly recall reading the stunned silence line above. It appeared where? I don’t think the Journal’s articles are blatantly editorial like the Sun, but seeing Mayor Gilmore’s response Friday in the Journal stacked above “My Word” by Mike Henneberry made me think the Alameda solvency debate is going to be a local version of last week’s showdown in D.C..

    Comment by M.I. — April 11, 2011 @ 8:17 am

  8. #1 and #7, If you follow the link above, the reference to “stunned silence” is from Michelle’s report in The Island.

    I might be biased, but I’ll take Michelle’s reporting over this blog any day.

    Comment by Jakstey M — April 11, 2011 @ 8:35 am

  9. Unfortunately this seems to be a battle of elected politicians left over from the last election. The Kevins supported the folks that lost power in the last election. Right or wrong the Mayor responded to what she felt was a political attack. What we should hope for is that all elected officials will quit posturing and act like adults to work on the Cities problems. Let the idiots in Washington D.C. make fools of themselves on national T.V. it gives us something to watch kind of like a giant reality show.

    Comment by John P. — April 11, 2011 @ 8:35 am

  10. 8. absolutely agreed on Michele. I haven’t watched the tape, but having watched many council meetings I also buy into Lauren’s take. Next stop, City web casts.

    I’ve sat through and watched meetings where different council persons blathered and Marie said nothing, but at times have been stunned when others complained to me that Marie “doesn’t say anything”, because time and again I’ve seen her make concise and cogent comments following blather.

    Comment by M.I. — April 11, 2011 @ 8:43 am

  11. RE: idiots in D.C., one of the perks of making friends through the blogs, thanks to J.E.A. for forwarding this tidbit to me which I have enjoyed sharing all weekend.

    Comment by M.I. — April 11, 2011 @ 8:47 am

  12. 11
    Great article you forward, Mark, for your comrades’ enjoyment. Let’s see, that particular gem was written by Matt Taibbi, formally of the Московский комсомолец (Moscow Times)who’s self described raison d’etre, “…we shit on everyone equally.”. Fits right in here.

    Comment by Jack Richard — April 11, 2011 @ 9:19 am

  13. 12
    Oh, Jack, you Libertarians get so hot and bothered by everything. Matt Taibbi was a sports reporter for the Moscow Times. He is outrageous, to be sure, but he IS an American of American parents and currently vents for the Rolling Stone.

    And re: my comments in #1, above, I was referring to the crap in the Sun and Journal. But if Michelle added the adjective “stunned” to “silence,” then she’d better be able to back that up. Adjectives can be a writer’s worst nightmare.

    Comment by Linda Hudson — April 11, 2011 @ 10:06 am

  14. How did I know you’d be the first to respond Jack? As they say, speak truth to power. I don’t care if Taibbi is a Commie from Mars, he nailed it.

    Entering The Depression 5% of the population in US controlled by 30% of the wealth. Today 1% of the population has 25% of the income and controls 40% of the wealth! When that much wealth is sequestered off shore it is not circulating through the economy, thus the myth that taxes are the drag on the economy and that lowering them in a deep recession will magically grow the economy back to prosperity.

    Eat the Rich!

    Comment by M.I. — April 11, 2011 @ 10:12 am

  15. Sorry Jack, But I just can’t get enough of MATT TAIBBI, and I love the “we shit on everyone equally” bit, as for you Mark, “eat the rich” no way too much fat.

    Comment by John P. — April 11, 2011 @ 10:53 am

  16. 13

    Here is video of meeting that someone posted on The Island with comments.

    For anyone who wants to listen to the budget discussion, here’s the video w/ the relevant starting points:

    Special Meeting of the Alameda City Council (3/29/11) re: General Fund Budget

    01:43:00: Kevin Kennedy begins comments
    02:03:55: Kevin Kearney begins comments
    02:12:25: Mayor responds to Kevins’ comments
    02:15:50: Kevin Kennedy responds to Mayor re solutions
    02:19:30: General council discussion begins

    (Mayor states to Kevins: “your input is always welcome, and always valuable, no matter how difficult sometimes it may be to hear,
    but we appreciate it, I appreciate plain and up front talking…”)

    Comment by Dummy Hoy Hoy — April 11, 2011 @ 11:29 am

  17. 13

    I think the Mayor missed the meeting or someone is writing the Puff piece for her. I’m going with the later. You were not part of that were you…

    Comment by Dummy Hoy Hoy — April 11, 2011 @ 11:32 am

  18. I think people are missing that there is a difference between what was said by both Kevins during the meeting and what was reported as said after the meeting.

    From The Island:

    “Based on where they are now, in a little over two years, you’re out of money,” City Treasurer Kevin Kennedy told a reporter after an impassioned appeal to the City Council…

    I read Mayor Marie Gilmore’s statement was a reaction to this statement which was made to Michele Ellson during an interview and not part of either of the Kevins public comments.

    Comment by Lauren Do — April 11, 2011 @ 11:44 am

  19. Lauren, it would be nice if U actually listened to what I said in the ARRA mtg (view webcast) B4 misquoting me on Twitter, as U did. I’m not a twit, so I can’t respond there-here will have to do. I have heard it said in both ARRA & Planning Bd. mtgs by Board members who weren’t there that traffic was “gridlock on Lincoln@ 2:30pm” until 7p. This is a gross exaggeration. The NAS shifts didn’t change till 3:30pm & 4:30pm & were staggered by the Navy to AVOID dumping all that traffic into the tube & onto Webster @ once. I commuted from Alameda to Berkeley et al from 1972-1997 & everyone here knew to avoid Webster+tube from 3:30-5p. On the other hand, Ive been in bumper to bumper Tube traffic last Sun @4:30p for no identifiable reason. The city doesn’t need to spend more on transportation consultants to study a situation which cannot forseeably be changed to accomodate more traffic. Less residential development is the only solution.

    Comment by CAROL GOTTSTEIN — April 11, 2011 @ 12:02 pm

  20. Oh, & that NAS traffic was only bad @ those hrs Mon-Fri.

    Comment by CAROL GOTTSTEIN — April 11, 2011 @ 12:05 pm

  21. It is unfortunate that this issue has become political, but hopefully we can get back to the issue – solving our budget problems and put the politics aside.

    Comment by Karen Bey — April 11, 2011 @ 1:32 pm

  22. Post #19. The reason you were in traffic last Sunday at 4:30pm was the Antique Fair was letting out. This happens once a month and is not a normal traffic pattern. Having lived in the West End of Alameda all of my life,and dealing with its traffic we still have not matched the traffic created by the base when it was in full swing.

    Comment by John P. — April 11, 2011 @ 2:54 pm

  23. 15 re Matt/Mark

    All I got out of Mark’s link and Matt’s piece was they have a hard-on for David Brooks and envy well coffered republicans. Mark by considering “the rich” akin to “shit” even wants to eat them…go figure.

    You all love bitching about the rich and how things would be so much better if we just taxed them higher. Great idea but fact is historically whether tax rates got up to 95+% or down to 25% the federal revenues will remain at around 19.5% of GDP.

    Take money out of the economy by taxation and the GDP will go down. Astronomitize tax rates on the high income sector and they go off-shore, lay-off workers or close shop. It’s just the way it works.

    Comment by Jack Richard — April 11, 2011 @ 3:42 pm

  24. clusterfuck “…if the goal is also to find new and diverse sources of revenue,…”

    But of course it is. No ifs about it. We’ve always done it that way!

    Comment by Jack Richard — April 11, 2011 @ 5:40 pm

  25. What I’m hearing from the mayor — and I might get some meetings mixed up — is that she has been aware of these problems and she is trying to get the public involved. She wants to see citizens at these budget meetings… not just showing up to complain when their niche program shows up on the chopping block. She noted that virtually the entire audience at CC was city employees.

    As for revenue, we have to get more creative than rising fees/taxes. Capitalizing on America’s Cup, for instance. How exactly… we still have to figure it out.

    Comment by Jack B. — April 11, 2011 @ 5:45 pm

  26. Taxes got lowered, and they went offshore, laid off people and closed shop. I don’t see the difference. The Republican solution is to cut taxes no matter what the situation, the Democratic solution is to apply greenbacks to any situation. Where is thinking person’s solution?

    Comment by LindaonOtisSt — April 11, 2011 @ 6:10 pm

  27. 23. taxes are not “taken OUT of the economy”. hording 40% of the wealth does not stimulate the economy.

    Comment by M.I. — April 11, 2011 @ 6:19 pm

  28. 25
    I don’t see Alameda getting much out of the Cup races. The course is so far away it would be like watching the Blue Angels from Alameda when they’re performing in SF.

    The idea of housing teams in various hangars, in this city? Come on. What else is there?

    Comment by Jack Richard — April 11, 2011 @ 6:22 pm

  29. 27
    Of course they are. Every buck taken from a producer and given to a non-producer does not stimulate anything but the desire of the non-producer to get more and the producer to buy off the thief or leave the country.

    Comment by Jack Richard — April 11, 2011 @ 6:30 pm

  30. 26
    There are a hell of a lot more things than taxes that inhibit the creation of jobs….all the government restrictions legislated by controllers beg entrepreneurs to go elsewhere.

    Comment by Jack Richard — April 11, 2011 @ 6:35 pm

  31. #29/#30: Right, like government “restrictions” (regulations) on savings and loans, which were helpfully lifted by the Reagan administration, and consequently led to the savings and loan mess (and bail out), and then the “restrictions” on banks which were helpfully lifted by the Bush (and Clinton) administrations and led to a worldwide financial crash.

    I don’t see the point in blindly repeating the same failed policy over and over again, tho to be accurate, the repetition isn’t blind really — it’s just the GOP’s slavish devotion to the rich that’s blind to any of the consequences for the nation. Republicans still try to hold themselves out as the fiscal conservatives — even tho their policies have caused nothing but financial disasters.

    Anyway, “trickle down” economics doesn’t work and it’s ridiculous to buy into that again. How stupid can any of us be?

    #25: The public didn’t show up for that meeting because the reference to a “special” CC meeting was confusing — the city manager negotiations were on that agenda as a special closed session meeting and I (for one) thought that was the purpose. Not until someone told me about it, incidentally, did I go back to the agenda and see the reference to the budget discussion.

    At that point I looked for attachments to further identify the topic, and there weren’t any as yet. All I saw was a reference to “General Fund Budget”, which is what? I had no idea what it meant.

    Comment by dlm — April 11, 2011 @ 9:57 pm

  32. 28. There are inquiries coming through the AWF website…. people have their speculative ideas.

    I think there a are opportunities w/ support team staging and spectator fleet. We shall see.

    Comment by Jack B. — April 12, 2011 @ 7:34 am

  33. 31
    Absolutely right about the GOP. I believe every piece of legislation signed into law by Republicans since Nixon (and especially Nixon) should be repealed. Let’s see, those would include:


    Equal Employment Opportunity Act
    Equal Rights Amendment
    National Environmental Policy Act
    Federal Water Pollution Control Act
    Endangered Species Act
    Clean Air Act
    Environmental Protection Agency
    War on Cancer
    War on Drugs
    Title IX
    Wage and Price controls

    and the list goes on and on, all and each drains on the economy

    As Noam Chomsky stated, “…Nixon was the last liberal president we’ve had…” I would amend that statement by saying Nixon was the best friend of Liberal/Progressives since the beginning of this country. Too bad you all couldn’t have forced him to resign two weeks after he became President!

    Comment by Jack Richard — April 12, 2011 @ 9:31 am

  34. Who knew that Nixon would one day be a shining example of statesmenship? Not me. That only shows how far we’ve drifted to the right — so far that we’re practically out of the picture.

    Comment by dlm — April 12, 2011 @ 2:46 pm

  35. No, it just shows how far the ruling class will go to get re-elected.
    BTW, in your #31 you mentioned the savings and loan mess but it didn’t hold a candle to the Community Redevelopment Act signed into law by Jimmy Carter. Each succeeding president expanded on it until it became unlawful to deny a home loan to anybody who wanted one.

    It wasn’t banks, mortgage companies or other unspeakables, it was our dear elected leaders who have delivered us into the folds of perfidy.

    Comment by Jack Richard — April 12, 2011 @ 6:37 pm

  36. No, it was the disconnect between lending and risk, that allowed financial institutions to lend, and then package and sell mortgages to investors. Lenders made their money on fees, so they cranked out mortgages as fast as they could.

    Comment by dlm — April 12, 2011 @ 10:43 pm

  37. #31: It was a Democrat who championed changing of the S&L law, not Republicans or the Reagan administration specifically. Can’t remember who but I do recall that this as a Democrat initiative. I suppose you can Google it. Also: deregulation began in earnest under Carter.

    Comment by Tony Dayog — April 13, 2011 @ 12:42 am

  38. Oh yes … Garn (sic?)/St. Germane (sic?) —-> led to the S&L debacle. There was actually fundamentally sound reason for Garn/St. German, having to do with some called disintermediation. Look it up.

    Comment by Tony Dayog — April 13, 2011 @ 12:47 am

  39. 36
    The “disconnect” was between the Federal Government (both parties) overriding the normal risk avoidance of financial markets by guaranteeing bad mortgages which the Fed had made illegal for lenders not to make.

    Comment by Jack Richard — April 13, 2011 @ 9:46 am

  40. 39

    Uh, no.

    Comment by dave — April 13, 2011 @ 10:04 am

  41. 40
    Is Jack R (39) reading alternative history novels, do you think?

    Comment by Linda Hudson — April 13, 2011 @ 11:33 am

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